Dawn Vaughn

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Assistant Professor
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Ph.D. University of Washington, Biology

Research Specialties

In the broadest sense, I am a marine ecologist interested in the role of the environment in shaping the diversity of behaviors, life histories and forms found in nature.

A major question that drives my research is: How do species respond to environmental uncertainty? Environmental uncertainty, be it unpredictable change in the biotic environment (e.g., presence or absence of predators, competitors) or the abiotic environment (e.g., temperature, salinity, pH), is a way of life for most organisms. How organisms cope with this unpredictability is of increasing interest to scientists because it suggests the potential to adapt to progressively disturbed environments and a warming global climate in the Anthropocene.

In my research, I use manipulative experiments to test for effects of environmental change on species performance and interactions in the sea. Environmental variability can impact species directly through changes in mortality, growth and reproduction, or indirectly by altering the outcome of interactions with other species. Ecosystems are built upon fundamental ecological interactions such as competition, symbiosis and those between predator and prey. Environmental change can influence these interactions, altering their strength and disrupting ecosystem function. Because change in environmental conditions can be influenced by both abiotic and biotic factors, the goals of my research are to evaluate the effects of a variety of physical and biological factors, independently and in concert.

My research focuses on the interactions between predator and prey in marine planktonic and benthic habitats, and during larval and adult stages. The majority of marine invertebrates including crabs, sea urchins, barnacles and many snails spend considerable time growing and developing in the open ocean prior to settling to the seafloor as juveniles. This distinct larval stage can differ greatly from the more familiar adult stage in morphology, locomotion, diet, and habitat. As such, an ongoing research interest in my lab centers on the ability for marine organisms to recognize and respond to changes in their larval environment and the consequences of such responses for later life stages on the benthos.

These potential carry-over effects from one life stage to the next, and from one generation to the next, may tell of longer-term consequences of environmental uncertainty for species abundance and persistence in our ever-changing world.

Specific research topics in my lab include:
- Transgenerational effects of environmental uncertainty
- Linking larval experience and juvenile performance
- Benthic-pelagic coupling: Why do benthic animals have pelagic larvae?
- Developmental plasticity in planktonic environments
- The ecology and development ("eco-devo") of larval cloning


Vaughn, D. (2007) Predator-induced morphological defenses in marine zooplankton: A larval case study. Ecology. 88:1030-1039

Vaughn, D. and R. R. Strathmann (2008) Predators induce cloning in echinoderm larvae. Science. 319:1503 (14 March 2008)

Vaughn, D. (2009) Predator-induced larval cloning in Dendraster excentricus: Might Mothers Matter? The Biological Bulletin. 217:103-114

Vaughn, D. (2010) Why run and hide when you can divide? Evidence for cloning and reduced size as an adaptive inducible defense. Marine Biology. 157(6):1301-1312

McDonald, K. A. and D. Vaughn. (2010) An abrupt change in food environment induces cloning in Dendraster excentricus plutei. The Biological Bulletin. 219:38-49

Vaughn, D. and J. D. Allen. (2010) The peril of the plankton. Integrative and Comparative Biology. 50(4):52-70